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Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.

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Posts Tagged ‘Small Business Trends’

When Hiring Workers With Disabilities, Businesses Fall Short

October 20th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Karen Axelton

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. But 20 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), things have not gotten better for employees with disabilities, reports a new study conducted by Harris Interactive for the Kessler Foundation and National Organization on Disability.

Just 21 percent of all working-age people with disabilities have jobs, compared to 59 percent of working-age people without a disability, according to the Kessler Foundation/National Organization on Disability 2010 Survey of Employment of Americans with Disabilities.

Most employers say employees with disabilities have the same abilities and workplace behaviors as employees without disabilities. (Interestingly, 35 percent think employees with disabilities have more dedication, and 33 percent think they have less turnover). Most employers also say the cost of hiring a person with a disability to be the same as hiring a person without a disability. And most employers say hiring employees with disabilities is important.

But companies are not putting their money where their mouths are. Just 56 percent of employers have hired someone with a disability in the past three years. Large (74 percent) and midsized (68 percent) companies are much more likely than small companies (43 percent) to have done so.

Is the economy to blame? Kessler Foundation president and CEO Rodger DeRose says the economy is disproportionately affecting people with disabilities, but believes lack of awareness among employers is also a factor. Of the 70 percent of companies that have diversity policies or programs, only two-thirds include disability as a component.

The situation has actually worsened since a prior survey was done in 1995. Fewer companies today have either a disability policy or program (29 percent in 2010 compared to 66 percent in 1995). Nineteen percent of companies have a specific person or department that oversees the hiring of people with disabilities, down from 40 percent in 1995. And just 18 percent of companies offer an education program to help integrate people with disabilities into the workplace, down from 63 percent in 1995.

For companies considering hiring as the economy picks up, employees with disabilities can be a “ready talent pool of … dependable workers,” said NOD President Carol Glazer. “Hiring people with disabilities can expand the productive power of [a business’s] work force.” Find more information and advice about hiring people with disabilities on the NOD website.

Image by Flickr user man pikin (Creative Commons)

Tweetchat Recap on Blogging Effectively to Market Your Small Business

July 7th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Shashi Bellamkonda wrote this great recap on the Tweetchat held on June 24th where the topic was about blogging effectively to market your small business. It is over at Small Business Trends but here are a few highlights:

  • When thinking about blogging, companies should think about goals first. What info you want to share and who will blog?
    • Content creation  -getting in habit of looking at daily business from blogging perspective (@eyeinfo)
  • Reasons to blog: Thought leadership, education, seo, branding, customer service and event promo
    • The blog is the hub or center of your business community, usually. Another key reason to maintain a blog w/social links (@CreativeSage)
  • Should SEO be a top consideration when starting a Blog?
    • SEO is a great goal but for a business blog, I feel that producing content that is useful to the reader is most important (@bethschillaci)
    • SEO should be a constant consideration for your blog, but content is always King. SEO is a tool.

Go to the full article to check out the whole recap.

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Your Marketing Needs to Have a Target…

December 8th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

I wanted to call this post “Does Your Audience Have a Target on Their Back”, but I didn’t want to get people concerned that I wanted you to cause pain to your intended audience. Today’s piece of Marketing Knowledge Goodness is about the pretty simple, yet often overlooked, concept when you are creating your marketing piece(s)/strategy, the Target Market (Audience).

To get a definition out of the way, Wikipedia defines Target Market as:

A ‘target market or target Audience is the market segment which a particular product is marketed to. It is often defined by age, gender and/or socio-economic grouping. Market Targeting is the process in which intended actual markets are defined, analyzed and evaluated before the final decision to enter is made.

It’s a little wordy in saying this, but basically when you create a piece or strategy you should be thinking about who you want to receive and use/buy your product or service. Unless you are buying your own products…you should be the last person you want to draw the attention of. While you may think it’s cool, interesting, pretty, or a laundry list of other things…your intended target, or audience, may not. And at the end of the day, the customer who’s listening, using, and purchasing ultimately matters more than what you think. Harsh to say it, but it’s true.

Now this can be as generic as “I want to reach plumbers in the [insert your city here] area” or as specific as “I want to reach all the housewives between the ages of 24-35 with black hair that have two children between the ages of 1-6 who like lumpy oatmeal for lunch”. Either way, you are defining who the intended target, or audience, is and going to plan your content and design around appealing to that audience. Yes you are going to miss out on a larger number of people who don’t fit that definition, but are they really the people you want? Do you really want to just be able to say, “We printed 5,000 brochures and passed them all out?” Who are you trying to impress and what are you gaining by that? Or, would you rather say, “We printed 500 brochures to [insert specific target audience] and got a greater return on our investment”.

The next thing you need to determine, after you figure out your target audience, is what return on your investment you are satisfied with and how you plan to reach that. But that, dear reader, is a post for another time.

I’ll leave you with this, I was told by a client I was consulting for that you should “ignore coming up with who your target is because if you cast the widest net you’ll catch the most fish”. While the logic in that is kind of sound, sort of, let me ask you this, do you want to catch the most fish or the best quality fish?

For me, even if that means my numbers don’t look so hot on paper, I want the best possible value for my efforts. My rule of thumb is quality over quantity.

As always, you can also reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at

If you have been reading this far, thank you and stay wicked.

Eight Things To Keep In Mind For Your Websites Search Engine Optimization

November 19th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

If content is King then your Search Engine Optimization efforts are your King’s Herald. The guy who is out there, once people are listening, giving out the valuable information about your King. But instead of the shiny horn and scroll of lineage, the Search Engine Optimization Herald uses text and links to allow the web crawlers, the cute name for the automated programs that source out websites and index their content in their lists.

Let me be clear, this isn’t the silver bullet that will push your website to the top page ranking. There are a lot of variables that get that there and with multiple search engines there’s more detail than can be fit in this list of eight things.

What we’re going to go over today are just a few things that will help helps search engines, like Google, be able to better index your site.

1. Title each page with your business name and section title. – Search engines use your title as the top link so it only makes sense you would have your companies name here. Don’t get too wordy and try to fill this space with extra words to try to help. You have between 60 to 70 characters (that’s letters, spaces, and symbols) so use that space wisely.

2. Use keywords on your pages that relate to that pages content. – This is where you leverage your key points in your content to, initially, draw attention to your content. You also want to take this time to also include words and two word phrases revolving around your industry and target markets.

3. Give each page a description based on the pages content. Ok, we’ve gone over the title and keywords, but the description is on more part of the sight that most people don’t keep in mind as they are looking at a search engine. By definition, this is the text that the search engines will display below the link to tell you a little about the site you are looking to find. By describing the content on that page, and a little about your company. Just like the title of your site, depending on the search engine you choose, you have roughly between 156 to 250 characters (letters, spaces, and symbols) to relay the information you want. This isn’t the place you want to get cute and fill it in with words that will boost your site. Your keywords are for that.

4. Name every image…photos and buttons. – This helps for more than search engines. This will help the disabled review your site. By namin>g the alt attribute, commonly referred to as the “alt tag”, you are giving a corresponding text title for every non-text element on your site. If this isn’t making sense, find your local web designer and they’ll go on for hours explaining it. Or you can just shoot me a message.

5.Give your site…a map– Site maps are great, because they help you organize your site as you go through the creation process, but they also provide a page of reference links for the search engines to review your site. The site map will also give viewers a place they can go where there a clean, and clear, direction to the content on your site without all the bells and whistles.

6.Breadcrumbs aren’t just for the birds. – Breadcrumb Navigation is often seen just below the header, and navigation (if it is horizontal), and just above the title of the content. It is a great way for visitors to see the path that took them to this page, but this also provides additional links, just like your site map, for the search engine web crawlers to use when indexing your site. Breadcrumb Navigation will often look like this:

Home > Main Content > Sub Content

7.Leverage free analytics tools. – There are paid analytics tools, but just if you are starting out there are tools like Google Analytics available to you simply for the time of setting up a Gmail account. This will help you determine where people are going on your site and what keywords are working for your site.

8.Remember your King. – The content of your site (the text, the links you create, and even images) help your search engine optimization as well. You may be able to get away with just a title, keywords, a description, and a single image, but you’ll get so much further making sure all of the things we talked about above are in line with the content on your website.

These are just a few efforts that you can implement early on, or even in your current website if you haven’t yet, to help make your site more appealing to web crawlers. Remember, this isn’t the silver bullet to the top page rankings, but it will help.

You can also reach me on Twitter by following me @wickedjava, or on Facebook at

As all ways, if you have been reading, thank you and stay wicked.

Ted Murphy Gets #SmallBizCool

November 12th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

Here comes another #SmallBizCool from the floor of BlogWorldExpo 2009. This time around I get to talk to twitter and social media legend Ted Murphy about social media and security. Ted Murphy is well known for his his Twitter and Blog Marketing Company, IZEA.

At BlogWorldExpo 2009, Ted took a few minutes to explain social media is cool and give us the update on his latest product Sponzai.

You can learn more about Ted at his website and you can follow Tee on Twitter @tedmurphy

You can also reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at

As all ways if you have been reading, and this time watching, thank you and stay wicked.

Book Review: Why does Tee Morris’ book have me “All A Twitter”?

October 6th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

I constantly source out material for post ideas or unique ways marketing/social media are being brought to the masses. My main source for this is books. I will admit for a tech guy, I like my resource material a little on the old school side, but these are the things I like to read when I disconnect from the laptop.

Lately there seems to be a flood of books about using the tools of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and the rest. Some books feel like they are trying to talk to everyone, new users to the experienced, and have left me feeling like I have been missed. I often feel like there are questions that I still had at the beginning that were never answered. There are things, as a moderately experienced user, that I wished wouldn’t have been glossed over or should have been included.

“All A Twitter” by Tee Morris, in my opinion, and mind you that’s worth a lot to me, has hit the mark for all possible users of Twitter. The main reason for this, and he explains this himself in the beginning of the book, is that he, like you and I, is a user of the technology he’s writing about. Not to say other authors on this tool aren’t, but “All A Twitter” doesn’t come across as an instruction manual. “All A Twitter” feels like is a conversation with a friend who has scouted out the terrain way ahead of you and has come back to tell you all about it.

One of the impressive aspects about the entire experience of reading this book is that it did not end when I hit the last page. Tees has built into the book actions to take what you’ve learned, such an experience with hashtags, and apply what you’re learning as you read. This, to me, is something that can break down the fears that a new user would experience and get them to roll up their sleeves to start tweeting. I even find myself going back and searching out those steps I took and seeing how others experienced them.

Tee covers everything that you could imagine from a book on Twitter and, as Tee himself writes, “follows a logical progression with Twitter”. From setting up your account, which mobile phones handle Twitter best, to proper etiquette, Tee covers everything you would need to get the most out of the online tool. The book even has ways to expand the information, such as the “A Little Birdie Told Me…” which are tips on the in’s and out’s of the tool or the “Fail Whale Says…” tips which are there to help prevent you from falling into traps that could derail your enjoyment, and success, with Twitter.

Now, I haven’t written a review on marketing/social media books on GrowSmartBusiness before, but after reading Tee Morris’ book “All A Twitter” that has changed. Once month I will source out a book, new or established, and give you my thoughts on it. At the very least, these books could help expand your idea bank of marketing tips or ideas. To me, the best education in the world is one that comes from more than one teacher.

This book was good enough, for me, to follow the advice offered in the forward, written by Chris Brogan, which was to “give it to someone else”. I’m not going to go giving away multiple copies, not just yet anyway, but what I will do is send the first person who comments here a free copy of the book. And this has to be a relevant comment about either the book or this post. You can’t just put up “First” or some variation of “Give me my free book”. I mean I have standards…well, some what, but the comment has to be relevant at the very least.

To make this easier, your comment needs to be twenty words on if you have read “All A Twitter”, or why you would like to, and provide a valid email that I can contact you with to get the address to send it to. I would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below regardless of who is first.

You can also reach me on Twitter by following me @wickedjava, or on Facebook at

As all ways, if you have been reading, thank you and stay wicked.

It’s Customer Experience…Not Just Customer Service

October 1st, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

My posts here generally circle around marketing, design, and social media, but today I am going to go off the beaten path. I am going to talk about something that creates its own marketing whether you plan for it or not. That, my dear readers, is customer service. There is an old marketing rule that I am fond of that relates perfectly to customer service as a marketing to help you understand what I mean. I am going to paraphrase, but “give one person a good experience and they will tell one person, but give one person a bad experience and they will tell ten people.”

My wife will tell you, if you ever get the chance to meet her, that I am a stickler for customer service. It might embarrass her when I’m more than vocal about it when it’s bad, but it is a major pet peeve of mine.

Customer service has been severely abused and taken for granted. It’s been seen from everything as yet another opportunity for a sale to the last reason anyone in the company should pick up the phone. I’ve sat in more than enough consulting meetings where they are worried about customer retention or new customer acquisition, but at no point is customer service ever brought up. It’s as if the reaction to customer service, for some companies, is “Give them a link to the FAQ and if that doesn’t work…let them send an email.” If you’re wondering, I heard that in a meeting that I eventually walked out of when it was obvious the client did not get it.

To be fair, and honest, I have been guilty of it. Looking back, it is a driving force now as to why I’m crystal clear about details of an agreement. It’s also the reason I get so frustrated when I see other companies do it. I want to jump over the counter and scream “Do you know how much money, and reputation, you are costing your company by giving me bad service? Trust me…I know!”

Customer service is one of the interactions with a client/customer that could sway a negative customer to a loyal one or kill any future interactions your company may have with them …and it’s swept aside in planning meetings for “more profitable solutions”.

Think about this, you plan for how to guide a prospective, or current, client/customer to your website, take an action, or make a call, through marketing pieces. You plan on what your messaging will be to gain their attention. You plan on how to make sure every dollar you spend has a great return on the investment. You plan for all the bells and whistles, but do you plan on how to service your customers beyond that step?

I hear the cries now…but Mike, how can we plan for this?

It’s simple, really. Do you plan on what your sales people or receptionist will say if they get a call? Or how many steps a customer will have to go through when trying to address an issue? Do your people know the right person to send customers to?

Decide, here and now, that the people who have invested their time and money into your company/product are just as valuable now as they were when they first gave you their business. Once you make that decision, make sure each person on your team feels the same way, because one weak link in the armor could cause the whole image of your company to be seen negatively by your potential/current customer.

In my previous post “Just take the black eye with a smile”, here on GrowSmartBusiness, I talked about what you can do when you get negative reactions to your business in social media, but good customer service will help those black eyes be fewer and fewer. Customer service isn’t the silver bullet solution, but more like an extra effort to help your marketing strategies be bullet proof.

I would love to hear your customer service experiences, good and bad, here in the comments. You never know, you could be helping someone else see ideas that they could improve or adopt.

You can always reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at

As always, thank you for reading, dear reader, and stay wicked.

Small Business Leaders to Address Staying Ahead In the Current Economy at the GrowSmartBiz Conference

September 24th, 2009 :: Steven Fisher

Recessions result in unforeseen challenges and instill fear in businesses, especially small businesses. But have no fear, The GrowSmartBiz Conference is here!

Network Solutions® is pleased to announce Jody Keenan of VA Small Business Development Center, Christine Banning of SCORE, Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends, Charles Colby of Rockbridge Associates, Jake Weatherly of Palo Alto Software and  Mike Reed of Paychex as the as panelists for the GrowSmartBiz Conference topic session: Staying Ahead in the Current Economy.

These panelists will share how they differentiate themselves against other businesses and provide tips and insights on creative ways to thrive during a recession.

In addition to this topic, Wired Editor-in-Chief and author Chris Anderson’s keynote and Virginia Senator Mark Warner’s special note, the conference will also focus on the following topics:
•    Raising Capital with Effective Finance Strategies
•    Driving Small Business Performance with Marketing & Innovation
•    Integrating Traditional Marketing with Social Media

The GrowSmartBiz Conference will be held on September 29 at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. The event was created as a result of the Small Business Success Index (SBSI) – an ongoing measurement of the overall health of small businesses commissioned by the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and Network Solutions. The conference will focus on key areas of business that small businesses view as critical to their success.

For more information or to register for the event, visit the GrowSmartBiz Conference site. Don’t forget to turn in your small business success story for the chance to have it posted on the GrowSmartBusiness Blog and to receive FREE admission to the GrowSmartBiz Conference.

Customer Service Through Marketing

September 15th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

I recently came home from a convention with some of the best, and worst, examples of customer service through marketing I have ever seen.  Let me preface this with the fact that I won’t name names, but I will give examples of both. I also want to clarify what I mean by Customer Service through Marketing, but before that, so we are on the same page, let me explain what Customer Service is as defined by, the great, Wikipedia:

According to Jamier L. Scott. (2002)[1], “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.” (

When you provide a marketing piece that requires the user to follow an action, or call out, and somewhere on that marketing piece you provide clear, and helpful, instructions or tips…to me you’ve provided Customer Service through Marketing.

Personally, I believe that your marketing pieces, both physical and digital, have the ability go transcend the elevator speech type format they are traditionally used for.  When those geniuses of marketing decided to turn those pieces into a way to do more for the person holding them then just a sales pitch…they have gold. When they try too hard, and reach for the sun too soon, they end up leaving a bad taste in the potential clients’ mouth that ends up resulting in…well, you know, negative press. And unless you’re all ready a star…bad press is bad press.

So let me get the bad out of the way first. The hotel I was staying at recently touted that they had a fast internet connection in every room. They had signage at the front desk, in the room, when you turned on their TV, and on every marketing piece I got my hands on. After all this I’m seriously excited because, since it’s a hotel, I am expecting an experience greater than I get at home.

Now it doesn’t matter much to me that they didn’t offer wifi, paid or not. It also wasn’t that big of a hassle to reach in the cramped desk drawer push past their additional marketing pieces, and religious paraphernalia, to find the cable to connect my laptop to their…well…router.

Where they earned a Customer Service through Marketing FAIL was in their log in screen to sign up for the internet service. I try to log in and I’m having difficulty because the “Discount Code” they offer me for staying in the room, not that I would actually have access to their internet services outside the room, wasn’t working. Their Sign In screen offered a “Live Chat” service for help. I opened it and typed my concern. What came back was clearly automated. How do I know? After getting frustrated at the clearly pre-scripted as I began to type anything from “How did the chicken cross the road” to “Why can’t you help me” and the response back was “I don’t know the answer to your question. Please retype your inquiry”. The only thing “Live” about it was the human being sitting on my side of the laptop getting ready to rip the Ethernet cord out of the wall and run down the hall screaming to find a local Starbucks (located in their hotel lobby that does offer limited free wifi).

Clearly they assumed an automated FAQ cleverly disguised as a chat feature was more than enough Customer Service, because their front desk was even less help giving me the same responses that the automated prompt gave.

The hero of Customer Service through Marketing ironically the airline I flew home on. This airline was offering new in-flight wifi, at a cost, but they were offering the first use free. I was met at the gate by a young lady wearing a t-shirt with the phrase “Ask me about free wifi on your flight”.

I followed the first activity, in a series, that the airline hoped would enhance the experience enough that I would to engage their product. Their hope paid off, because the attendant informed me about the new service. Once I said I would give it a try, she gave me a card, the size of a business card, which had all the information of the service on one side and the complete instructions, including discount code, which would allow me to use their service on the other.

Once we were in the air, I tested out the service. I was more than impressed to know that their instructions were more than crystal clear. The wifi service even had a chat based Customer Service feature that, surprise, had a human being on the other end. I got all of my questions answered about which flights carried wifi, terms of service, and, since I am not a regular flier, a list of their payment plans which ranged from per flight to monthly basis. Needless to say, but I will be using their service again once I fly out on that airline.

The main reason, if not obvious, that I chose these two to talk about is that they are polar opposite examples, of the same service, of Customer Service through Marketing. One showed that they were only willing to go so far to increase the level of customer satisfaction that their service offers. While the other showed they valued their customer every step of the way.

The question I leave you with is this, dear reader, do each of your marketing pieces increase the level of engagement, and satisfaction, that your customers have with your product, service, or brand? Or are you simply providing just enough information to get by.

As all ways, thank you for reading and stay wicked.

A Parable On Getting Your First Website

August 27th, 2009 :: Michael Dougherty

I was consulting last weekend for a lady in Ohio who was interested in getting a website, but wasn’t sure what she REALLY needed. You see, she had been bombarded with emails, and quotes from various web designers and firms. She was getting offered packages ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars that seemed to really have nothing to do with her actual needs. She was getting overwhelmed and wanted to hear from someone in the industry what the right course of action.

Now you might ask, Mike aren’t you a web designer? Why didn’t you offer her your services? To be honest, the greedy part of me thought about it for about ten seconds until I really took a look at my schedule. I could have taken the job and really done her a lot more harm than good by delaying the project while I worked on my other priorities.

So I opted to be the voice of reason for someone who knows very little about the services being offered to her. I listened as she read me the quotes, emails, and notes she had gotten. Based on the “advice” she was getting from these sales people, she was leaning heavily towards starting an online store, but had no idea what that really meant.

After hearing all of this, I asked a few simple questions.

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Do you have the financial stability to afford the design and the monthly charges you would get into with an online store?
  • What is your real goal with this website?

She explained that she was just opening her physical store front and she knew she needed a presence on the web to help promote, attract customers, and inform the interested about her business. She acknowledged that starting out her budget was extremely tight, as most start ups are, but she was really impressed with what she was told an online store could do for her. She was getting swayed by the possibilities and ignoring the reality.

That’s where I stopped her and stepped in.

I asked her to go through the three questions I asked her with me.

  • How long have you been in business? Not very long.
  • Do you have the financial stability to afford the design and the monthly charges you would get into with an online store? No. She was paying for the physical store front, supplies, and stock.
  • What is your real goal with this website? Just to inform people about her business.

With the reality of her needs and limitations firmly in place, I went with her through several hosting companies’ websites and showed her the monthly cost of what an online store would bring her if she chose this route. She was floored at the cost and was upset that some of the firms she talked with, that did the most convincing, never informed her of.  I advised her she could use services like PayPal or E-Bay in the interim if she was truly interested in selling products online, but with being a one person operation, and her main focus being on trying to build the physical store front, that it might be overwhelming for her to maintain both.

Knowing she had no client base to start with, the recommendation I had was for her to start with a basic website that could inform people about her business, give directions to her new store front, and, using a simple Content Management System like WordPress, she could keep her customers up to date by updating the website herself.

I armed her with some information to take back to these designers and firms who were offering to potentially give her the wrong product for her needs. She felt empowered and eager to get exactly the right services for her needs.

After we finished talking, she was happier to know that the idea of a store front is still possible, but only after she’s built the customer base and awareness of her store and products. She admitted that the “wow” factor of what a store front could possibly, and that is the key word in all this, do for her blinded her to what she actually needed to start out.

I see this time and time again. Start ups, and large companies, often become Icarus and ignore their wax wings, either made of a small budget or untested audience, to reach for the sun of profit only to be burned by their decision and blame the website, not their decision, for their failure.

As you go into your next web, or marketing, project keep in mind it’s good to dream, but it’s better to support that dream with a plan. You can reach for the sun, but get some sun block of knowledge and some nice shades first.

Maybe, just maybe, there is a post coming up about what the right web project could be good for you. Or maybe there is a post about how much is too much for web design.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment, or share this on twitter, and let me know what you think.

And as all ways, if you’ve read this far…thank you and stay wicked.